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Going to the Movies

Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 15:03

Remember VHS tapes and hand-drawn animated movies? Or even having to wait until the movie you wanted to watch was on TV or in the video rental place before you could watch it? How we perceive movies has drastically changed in the two decades most of us students have been alive. The motion picture industry has made several huge advances in technology, all to improve our viewing experience.

Advances in animation are seen in the difference between Snow White, released in 1937, and the crisper images of Aladdin, released in 1992. The stilted computer generated, (CGI) characters in the 1995 movie Toy Storycontrasted with their more true-to-life movement of the 2004 The Incredibles. Until very recently, 3D movies were limited to theme parks; now you can watch them at your local movie theater! Movies have come a long way from their humble origins.

By the end of the 19thCentury, the concept of moving images as entertainment was gaining support. For some time, several types of devices had been used to create the moving-image effect. Magic lanterns projected images on glass slides onto a screen and levers were used to make these images "move". Another machine called a Phenakistiscope consisted of a disc with images of successive phases of movement on it, which could be spun to simulate movement, similar to a flipbook. Additionally, there was the Zoopraxiscope, developed by photographer Eadweard Muybridge in 1879, which projected a series of images in successive phases of movement, obtained through the use of multiple cameras. Muybridge used his Zoopraxiscope to capture the movements of people and animals, and is regarded as having made the first successful "photographs of motion."

At this time, the moving pictures were just that – pictures that moved – no plot, no story, no sound. One of the earliest movie shorts was a collection of 15-30 second scenarios created by the Lumiere Brothers in France. The first movie "shows" lasted 5-8 minutes and were also a collection of these short scenes: a train arriving at a station, a man watering his garden, men playing cards, people getting off of a ferry, and a street vendor selling his wares. The early Lumiere presentations delighted people in Paris, drawing huge crowds. Part of the shows' draw was their realistic quality. In one film, a train pulled into a station, coming directly at the viewers. Famously, some theatergoers thought the train would come right into the theater – scared, they panicked and ran out.

In 1888, Muybridge visited Thomas Edison and proposed a collaboration, combining the Zoopraxiscope with the Edison phonograph to create moving images combined with sound. Although he appeared intrigued, Edison turned Muybridge down, perhaps realizing that the Zoopraxiscope was not a very practical or efficient way of recording motion.

However, this in no way meant that Edison was rejecting the idea of creating such a device. Later that year, he filed a caveat with the Patents Office describing his ideas for a device which would "do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear" – record and reproduce objects in motion. Edison called the invention a "Kinetoscope," using the Greek words "kineto" meaning "movement" and "scopos" meaning "to watch."

Edison also developed the Kinetograph, which was based on his phonograph cylinder. Tiny photographic images were affixed in sequence to a cylinder, with the idea that when the cylinder was rotated the illusion of motion would be reproduced via reflected light. This ultimately proved to be impractical.

While in Europe, Edison met French physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey, who used a continuous roll of film in his Chronophotographe, another early attempt at creating moving pictures, to produce a sequence of still images which were projected in rapid sequence, giving the illusion of motion. The Edison Company used this technique with emulsion-coated celluloid film sheets developed by John Carbutt. By 1890, a new assistant, William Heise, joined Edison's point man on the project, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, and the two began to develop a machine that exposed a strip of film in a horizontal-feed mechanism.

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